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August: Osage County | Study Guide

Tracy Letts

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Tracy Letts | Biography


Early Life and Acting Career

Tracy Letts was born July 4, 1965, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up in Durant, Oklahoma, where his father, Dennis, was an English professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. His father also acted in community theater, which may have inspired him to become an actor. His mother, Billie Letts, was a journalism professor and a best-selling novelist. Tracy Letts briefly attended Southeastern Oklahoma State, and then he moved to Dallas, Texas. At age 20, Letts moved to Chicago, where he acted and wrote plays. During the 1990s Letts continued to act, although his playwriting career was gaining momentum. He moved to Los Angeles briefly and appeared in such television series as Seinfeld (1989–98) and Judging Amy (1999–2005). Back in Chicago, Letts appeared on stage in several productions by the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and in 2002, he was invited to join the company.

Writing Career

Letts's first play, Killer Joe (1991), concerned a killer-for-hire and a family murder plot. Initially, Letts could not get a theater company to produce the violently graphic play, so he and other actors staged the play themselves. It received mixed reviews but enjoyed popular success and was subsequently produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in New York and London. A film adaptation was released in 2011, directed by American William Friedkin (b. 1935) and starring American actor Matthew McConaughey (b. 1969) in the titular role. Letts's next play, Bug (1996), about drug addiction and delusions, was staged in London and New York. Again, Friedkin directed a film adaptation (2006), starring American actor Ashley Judd (b. 1968).

The Man from Nebraska (2003), Letss's next play was staged by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2004. It concerns an insurance agent who loses his religious faith. This play was followed by August: Osage County (2007), about a family coping with the death of its patriarch and the illness of its matriarch. Both The Man from Nebraska and August: Osage County depart from the physical violence of Letts's earlier plays, though they are still dark. August premiered at Steppenwolf and later moved to Broadway, winning a Pulitzer Prize and five Tony Awards, including one for best play. It was adapted to the screen in 2013. The film, directed by American John Wells (b. 1956), featured a star-studded cast including American actors Meryl Streep (b. 1949) and Julia Roberts (b. 1967) and Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (1971). Later plays include Superior Donuts (2008), which was adapted as a television series (2017–18); Mary Page Marlowe (2016); and The Minutes (2017), which garnered yet another Pulitzer nomination. Letts has also written the screenplay adaptations of all his plays that have been released on film. He has continued to act in stage, screen, and television roles and has appeared in several Academy Award-nominated pictures.

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